Gilbert on career at Apple: “An incredible experience”

Donna Gilbert (BADM ’88) has built a career working at the one of the world’s largest and most iconic companies – Apple. Gilbert has spent the last 11 years at Apple, and she is currently the Director of Worldwide Materials. Even though Gilbert’s career has taken her around the world, she always remembers where she got her start – a degree from Gies College of Business.

Q. What was your experience like at Gies College of Business? How did it prepare you for the challenges you face in your career?
Donna GilbertA. I like to say that I was a supply chain major at the University of Illinois before we had the vocabulary to call it that. I was in the second class of the Industrial Distribution Management program spearheaded by Professor Richard Hill. This is where I learned supply chain and industrial engineering basics. I have stayed true to these roots, following a career path in distribution, operations, and supply chain.

I have had many great experiences since graduating from U of I. I have had the opportunity to work in start-ups as well as large, established companies, have held full time positions in the US, Mexico, and China, and worked in high-tech, home hardware, and print.

I started my career in a leadership development program at an electronic distributor with rotations in warehouse operations, corporate procurement, and sales. I then moved to California into a sourcing role at a pre-IPO Qualcomm. I was employee #641; today Qualcomm has around 34,000 employees.

My first opportunity to work internationally came in 1994. I spent ten years in Tijuana, Mexico working for two maquiladoras, first for Rain Bird and then for Bose Corp. This is where I stretched the supply chain muscles I developed at Illinois. In 2004, I transitioned to a role north of the border, leading materials and operations for Digirad, a developer and manufacturer of large nuclear gamma cameras. One year later I became VP of Operations at Upper Deck, a company that changed the sports card and memorabilia industry. The role at Upper Deck was a bit of a departure from the hands-on factory management and repetitive manufacturing that I was used to. The role was true project management, as each product was a singular, discrete, limited print (i.e., collectable). It was a combination of supply chain planning and new product introduction management. My responsibilities were broad in scope, entailing supplier management, materials acquisition, warehouse operations, and facilities. It also had the added perk of meeting the occasional sports hero (most memorable: a 22-year-old LeBron James).

In 2007 I landed my dream job in Worldwide Materials at Apple, where I lead a team of supply chain managers. After all these years in ops and supply chain, I still get jazzed about being involved in the development and execution of meaningful products, that people recognize and love. In addition, after more than 11 years in WW Materials, the role never gets easy, as there is always a new challenge to tackle and solve. This is what keeps me coming back. It is always challenging and rewarding.